17 June 2013

By Robby Soave

The Daily Caller

Unionized local employees repeatedly harassed and intimidated non-union workers of a private disaster cleanup firm that won a government contract to restore Long Island, New York, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The vice president of the union even made threats against the wife and kids of one of the workers. That worker felt it necessary to call the police and pursue other security measures to protect his family, a source told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

After Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey shoreline in late October, Looks Great Services (LGS) won a bid to haul away debris, clear roads and remove damaged trees. New York’s Nassau County hired the company to complete $70 million worth of repairs.

Soon thereafter, representatives of Local 138, a union representing heavy equipment operators, began visiting construction sites, demanding that the company hire unionized employees to help with the job.

But LGS was paying its workers — some of whom came from out of state — market-based wages, rather than union wages, in compliance with federal law regarding disaster recovery jobs.

“If the contract is union, we are union, if it’s not, we’re not,” said Kristian Agoglia, president of LGS, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation.

His answer didn’t satisfy the union, which began making inflammatory statements to workers at LGS construction sites.

One of LGS’s contract workers recalled a union heckler telling them to “take your country ass back to Mississippi,” and “get your dumb Tennessee ass off that piece of equipment.”

“What they would say is, ‘It sure would be sad if your trucks caught on fire,’” recalled the LGS worker, who spoke to TheDC News Foundation on condition of anonymity because the union also made threats against his wife and children.

Local 138 vice president Phil Capobianco made the threats, said the source.

“[He] called and said, ‘Look you have to get us involved,’” recalled the source. “I said, first of all, I don’t have to; second of all, we’ve tried; and third you’ve said you refuse to work for the rates we can pay.”

Then Capobianco said something that the source would never forget.

“He said, ‘I would just hate for anything to happen,’” recalled the source. Capobianco then rattled off a list of the source’s home address, his wife’s name, his kids and their current whereabouts.

“I’m a combat veteran, and I have never in my life been as frightened as I was in that phone call when he started naming my family members and where they were and what they were doing,” recalled the source. “From that point forward I wasn’t polite to him. I told him exactly what he could do with himself, what he could do with his union, and what he could do with his threats.”

The source contacted police and hired a security company to check on his house and his family. LGS also implemented security cameras at its operating sites.

Agoglia was aware of the threats, but said Capobianco’s statements stopped short of illegal harassment, according to his counsel.

“It’s not against the law to discuss that they are aware that you have family members and where they go to school,” he said. “It’s very intimidating, but it may not be crossing the legal line.

Once it was clear the threats would not stop LGS, Agoglia believes the union asked its politically-connected Democratic allies to investigate the company for various trumped-up charges.

Last month, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into LGS after a local news service accused the company of removing extra trees in order to drive up the bill for the county.

The U.S. Department of Labor is also investigating whether LGS won its bid fairly. Democratic officials have suggested that Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano selected LGS to handle cleanup efforts as a kickback to Agoglia, who donated $16,500 to Mangano’s campaign. Agoglia counters that LGS was approved to do disaster recovery work in Nassau in 2009, before Mangano took office.

John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, which represents 130 local unions, expressed concerns about LGS’ methods.

“There have been inquiries made by many of us, whether we’re construction trades or not construction trades, about who got these contracts, whether they’ve been competitively bid or whether they were just given to politically connected friends,” Durso said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal.

For Agoglia, who was born and raised in Long Island and continues to live there, the Hurricane Sandy cleanup effort is both a paying job and a way to help his own community recover from the storm. Agoglia started the company as a lawn care business at age 15. The work eventually expanded, and by 2001, he was doing disaster recovery cleanup.

“The goal is to make profit, make a living, feed our families. However, in the spirit of an emergency, in the spirit of these events, there is a coming together with the agencies, with the town, the village, the county … that we are on a mission to assist the public,” he said. “Especially when it’s your hometown.”

Agoglia said he has no problem working with employees who are union, non-union, in-state, or out-of-state — as long as they get the job done.

Phil Capobianco, the Local 138 vice president who allegedly threatened LGS workers, did not respond to TheDC News Foundation’s request for comment.